Albertina, you are a respected expert in Bioenergetic Analysis, please tell us about the bioenergetics exercise classes; what is it and what are the major benefits, specifically for women?
Bioenergetic Analysis Psychotherapist
Bioenergetic Analysis is a technique for the combined body and psyche created in the ’50s by Alexander Lowen (1910-2008), an American physician and psychotherapist. His technique states that a human being is a “unit” and therefore:
- If a physical trauma occurs then the psyche is also involved, or if a person is anxious their body is also impacted and reflects the symptoms of anxiety.
- This means that the psychological state of an individual determines their physical state.
Dr. Lowen created the bioenergetic exercise classes as a tool to improve the psycho-physical health in terms of vital energy, emotional unlocking and our contact with our bodies. Being in contact with our body means <<not confusing thinking with feeling>>. Too often we live in our heads and lose contact with our bodies.
The bioenergetic classes help reduce stress and increase mental and physical well-being. These physical exercises directly address the muscle tensions, even the chronic ones, and allow release through specific, appropriate movements, which transform the stress into energy. A key feature of these exercises is that they address muscles, articulations and vertebras in synchrony with respiration: this improves individual’s flexibility and their muscular tone, but also enhances their ability to connect deeply with their own body.
Despite the fact that the bioenergetic exercise classes are done in classes with small groups, it remains a very personal experience which acknowledges the differences and pace of each individual, but at the same time benefits from the vitality and energy generated by a group.
The bioenergetics exercises are meant for everybody: children, adolescents and seniors, women and men. They tend to be particularly beneficial for people charged with great responsibilities and/or exposed to conflicting and stressful situations. These are people who need to seek their optimal psycho-physical shape in order to guarantee their performance and good interrelationships. This optimal psycho-physical shape cannot be reached solely by an act of will, it is crucial to release stress and to increase their own awareness of their own physical and psychological limits.
Which are the factors that can jeopardise the syntony between body and psyche?
The perception of what is difficult or stressful is very subjective, therefore the factors that might compromise our body-mind syntony are many and may vary from individual to individual. Some examples of stress factors in the working life are: organizing our work, communication challenges, heavy work environment, social or psychological pressures, incomprehension or inability to face some situations.
We lack body-mind syntony every time our balance is compromised due to objectively difficult situations or personal reasons linked to our personal story.
Stress emerges when situations are perceived by the individual as dangerous, more than we can handle and a danger to our well-being. If we observe children crying or laughing, we notice that their body is in syntony with what they feel and what they express.
Unfortunately we learn very early in our life how to hold our breath in order to avoid painful or intolerable feelings and this triggers the following pattern:
If this mechanism persists, we risk becoming inefficient at work and inadequate in our private lives.
- In order to reduce the intensity of our negative feelings our breathing becomes shallower and shallower. As a consequence we distance our negative feelings from ourselves
- This reaction creates muscle tension and blocks our normal spontaneous movements until we freeze up, which prevents our abilities to feel
- Therefore each chronically tense muscle reflects an internal conflict between the perceived feeling and permission to express it.
How can work stress affect us?
Currently many organisations lack flexibility in terms of working hours and work-life balance, and we do not have the benefit of social services that may alleviate parental or children care duties. Women are more impacted by these limitations regarding their work-family balance and might accumulate extra tension and stress.
Unfortunately working women are also confronted by gender prejudices and stereotypes, diffidence and bias towards the female professionalism; we all know that in most countries men have most of the higher positions and that women still struggle to break the glass ceiling (term coined in 1986).
In order to fight stress it is critical for women to know their resources well and to transform gender diversity into strength.
Nevertheless, some “so-called female characteristics” like emotional intelligence, pragmatism, concreteness and the ability to listen actively are getting re-evaluated and will be crucial for the development of new organisational models, which are adequate to satisfy the new economic needs.
Do you have any recommendations for women who want to be fitter at work?
When we are in situations where we can demonstrate and realise our abilities, like school or work, we need to keep in touch with our ambitions, determination, desire for power, personal satisfaction and pleasure. This requires us to know our limits and capabilities. If we push too far for whatever reason we lose our contact with ourselves and we risk neglecting the most important thing: our health.
We need to be able to realise we are consuming too much of our energy and stop before we hurt ourselves.
In a nutshell, I recommend the following to both women and men: <<Do not fill your life with useless and ephemeral things, which require you to spend a lot of energy, because your well-being, pleasure and zest for life are equal to the quantity of energy you personally have>>.
Albertina, please tell us about yourself, what inspired you to pursue a career in the fields of psychology and psychotherapy?
Since I was young, I have been fascinated by the study of the individual as a whole and by their enormous potential.
I worked for a few years as a teacher. Then I studied psychology at the Sapienza University of Rome. After graduating I decided to become a psychotherapist and specialize in Bioenergetic Analysis.
Becoming a psychotherapist is a long process, during which we need to explore our inner being and acquire the sensitivity and the qualities that will make each of us unique in our profession.
I also pursued studies in the field of the psychosomatic medicine (Gestalt-Bioenergetic orientation), sport psychology, relaxation techniques and Reiki.
My favourite branch remains the Bioenergetic Analysis, which I value as an excellent method based on both theoretical and empirical knowledge. I believe that by combining the verbal-analytic work with work on the body we can reach the deep emotional nuclei and overcome the barriers erected by our resistances.
Currently my practice is located in Brussels, the focal point of Europe, and I am happy and enthusiastic about meeting so many different people from so many different cultures and nationalities every day, all of them willing to take care of themselves.
What are the positive contributions that a woman can bring to this profession?
How do you balance your professional and family life?
Throughout the world women largely outnumber men as psychologists and psychotherapists. Nevertheless, I do not think a woman in this profession could bring a more positive contribution than a man could.
I recommend an interesting article by Dr. Giuliana Proietti (psychologist, psychotherapist and sexologist) (1) who theorizes that there is no evidence that having a male or female psychotherapist brings different results.
Regarding my work-family balance: like the majority of women with children I have encountered a number of difficulties and have had to compromise in order to balance my energy between tasks (as a professional and as a mother).
Via your profession you know the most intimate fears, difficulties and desires of members of our society and you get a deeper view of reality. How do you judge the current role and condition of women? How has woman’s role changed in recent years?
For centuries women have fought against cultural and social stereotypes which limit their freedom of speech and expression.
Nowadays a woman’s role in her public and private life is still limited. Women might be able to exercise their rights more often but this possibility is unequal, and not accessible to all women; there are still countries where women – for cultural, religious and economic reasons – face prejudice and a denial of their rights. There is still a long way to go to complete the re-evaluation of the contribution of women.
Even the medical community has contributed to the discrimination against women in the past. Women were not allowed to freely express their feelings, personal aspirations, or their sexuality, and those who tried to do so were often accused of “hysteria”, which was considered a purely female disorder.
As neurology has developed, the hypothesis that hysteria is a female disorder linked to gynecological/anatomical issues has been abandoned. Hysteria was then associated with the hyper-sensitivity of the nervous system of those women diagnosed with this complaint, who reacted against the harsh living conditions imposed on them by society’s styles and culture.
Nowadays hysteria, as depicted by the classical symptoms, has disappeared since women have conquered their sexual freedom.
Another example of discrimination between men and women in regard to the hormonal transformations due to menopause and andropause (male menopause), which present similar pathological symptoms. When they get older men often suffer from sexual dysfunctions like a lack of desire or impotence. On the contrary post-menopausal women, freed from the risk of an unwanted pregnancy, experience an increase in sexual desire. For centuries this fact has been denied because when a woman lost her fertility it meant that she had lost her femininity and sexuality in the eyes of society, which valued a woman for her ability to reproduce.
I recommend that women accept menopause as a transition in life, and they open themselves to the changes that menopause brings. These changes are messages from their body inviting them to a new lifestyle, to renew their desire and to change their habits.
It’s time for women to encounter their deepest emotions, which claim acknowledgement and respect. In fact, as dr. Lowen (2) used to say <<Health is something more than a lack of debilitating symptoms. Health is vitality, the ability to love, to be creative and to build relationships>>.
In conclusion, the woman’s role has changed and it is still changing, it is permanently evolving. As it evolves, there will be new targets that women will achieve.
What is your personal vision of the woman’s role? How should it change and why?
In my work I have more women patients than men. I see many women who challenge themselves, who want to change and reach their peak of well-being. They are generous and compassionate despite the disappointments they have experienced. Many women have a lot of energy and are good at multi-tasking, which are acknowledged and appreciated qualities.
I think that women should shift their focus in their fight for equality: women and men are different, different yet complementary, and therefore women should highlight their differences and build on them. Any action should be guided by common sense, common good, honesty and a respect for everybody.
(1) <<Perché la psicoterapia è donna?>> 24th May 2011
Albertina Serafini graduated in 1985 in psychology from Sapienza University of Rome. Later she also became a certified therapist specializing in Bioenergetic Analysis (3)(4).
She is a member of the “Commission Belge des Psychologues” and of the order of Psychologists and Psychotherapists of the Lazio Region in Italy.
She gives bioenergetic exercise classes. She is specialized in psychosomatic medicine, sport psychology, pregnancy support and relaxation techniques.
- “Creation of specific tests for the identification of cognitive delay in childhood and of cognitive deficit in adults”, Sapienza University of Rome.
The results of her research were published in 1986 in the review ” Rassegna Italiana Linguistica Applicata”- n.2 Bulzoni
- Research (1991): “Personality profiles of patients suffering from cluster headache”, Headache Centre, University Hospital Umberto I in Rome.
Bioenergetic Analysis Psychotherapist
Avenue A.J. Slegers 65, 1200 Woluwe Saint Lambert (Brussels)